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Harry Potter: Plants, People, & Potions: Muggle Plants in Harry Potter


This libguide is in conjunction with the National Library of Medicine's traveling exhibit, Harry Potter's World, hosted at UCSD 5/6-6/16/12

Wolfsbane

Wolfsbane (or aconitum) is a poisonous plant that has been used for centuries as a poison.  Its common name stems from its use in poisoning wolves in Europe.  In the Harry Potter stories, a potion of wolfsbane is what helped Professor Lupin cope with the monthly full moon.


In muggle history, it has been used as a common poison to kill people.  Anglo-Saxons used it on their weapons. Its uses in medicine were as a sedative, help with fever and inflammatory diseases, as well as with rheumatism, pneumonia, peritonitis, gastritis and more.

Extracts and tinctures of the roots and leaves, when properly prepared can slow the heart rate and reduce blood pressure.  It can also provide pain relief for neuralgia and rheumatism. 

Hellbore

Hellebore was mentioned as part of the Herbology class, and it was an ingredient used in making potions.

A 19th Century illustration of hellebore from wiki commons.


An extremely poisonous plant - in fact, it name in Greek comes from the word helein (to injure) and bora (meaning food).  A common name for it is the Christmas Rose.  It has been used as a purgative and was touted as being good for "mad and furious men, melancholy, dull and heavie persons, ... and all those molested with melancholy."  It was also prescribed for palsy, apoplexy, insanity and hysteria, dropsy, worms and amenorrhea.  Chemists foud that the plant has a similar affect on the heart as Digitalis.

Mandragora

Mandrake or Mandragora is probably the most recognizeable plant name in the Harry Potter stories and it was not an imaginary plant. Seen in the Herbology class, the mature plants were later used to restore those who had been petrified by the Basilisk.

Mandragora, from Tacuinum Sanitatis (1474), from wiki commons

The early understanding of the mandrake plant

from wiki commons

A more recent picture of the mandrake plant

Yes, early drawings of this muggle plant pictured people in the roots.  From earliest times, it was chewed by a person for pain relief or even as a pimitive anaesthetic before operations (like limb amputations).  It was also given to those suffereing from continual pain, melancholia, mania, or convulsions.  

There was much mystery, misinformation, and magic conferred on this odd plant.

Deadly Nightshade

Belladonna or deadly nightshade is a common plant in Harry Potter's world and was a standard part of their potion making kit.

Illustration from Köhler's Medicinal Plants 1887, from wiki commons.


Muggle history buffs know that belledonna was often use to dilate the eyes, and women did this to enhance their beauty - thus the name.

In medieval times, eating the berries of the plant was a way to produce madness and hallucinations.  However, poultices of the leaves & roots were used to reduce swelling.  When properly produced, it was an medication used to treat convulsive disorders. Today, doctors have developed Atropine for eyes based on this plant as well as a narcotic (Hyoscyamine) that works on the nervous system.

Muggle Plants in a Magical World

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from Paracelsus

"All substances are poisonous, there is none that is not a poison; the right dose differentiates a poison from a remedy."

-- Paracelsus